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Elizabeth Phillips: Negative view of a positive event

Tuesday, as I was finishing my thank-you letter to the energetic volunteers and the business sponsors of the sixth annual Basalt River Days, my phone began to ring. The callers were some of those wonderful folks who make a community event such as River Days possible.

Unfortunately, the narrow, negative column about Basalt’s summer festival in Tuesday’s Aspen Times appeared before my letter was sent and the callers were insulted by Allyn Harvey’s perception of the weekend.

I am assuming that for him to write such a simple review of a two-and-a-half-day event that incorporates over 200 volunteers, 36 sponsors, months of planning and countless goodwill gestures, that he has not participated in such an event as more than a observer. It is also interesting that this was the only review of the River Days Festival in this publication.

In his article he compares the energy of the Carbondale Mountain Fair to Basalt River Days, or as I might say, Bonedalians to Basaltines. As a person who was an integral part of the early Mountain Fairs, the overseer of the first and subsequent River Days, the person in charge of the music at River Days, and one who waited in the rain for the Sopris Jam Band to play their hearts out for Thomas’s farewell Mountain Fair Saturday night, I think I have a valid response to the short and limited view of the two events.

Mr. Harvey may have been trying to eventually make the point that the downvalley fairs are more egalitarian than Jazz Aspen, but on the way to that end he definitely touched a nerve with his suggestion of renaming Basalt “Lameville.” Since this was the only follow-up of River Days that The Aspen Times ran, I thought some background would help to explain the flood of letters written to the paper in response to that column.

The Carbondale Mountain Fair was one of the first fairs in the state of Colorado to bring fine crafts and great music together. Many of the fairs in the state modeled themselves after this successful event and, indeed, River Days hired Laurie Loeb, Mother of the Fair, to help us structure our operation.

The Mountain Fair has over 32 years of community involvement, an incredible reputation among artisans, and multiple generations of involved, committed Roaring Fork Valley folk. It has participation from the entire valley as well as all points of the globe.

The Mountain Fair began, and continues, as the major fund-raiser for the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities. For over 32 years the CCAH has brought excellent arts and entertainment to what used to be rural Colorado.

It has also afforded financial assistance and educational support to the entire Roaring Fork Valley arts community. It has a long career. It is much more than dreadlocks and mud wrestling in the rain.

Basalt River Days began only six years ago as a desire to bring together a relatively new, multifaceted community, to create a festival for the growing population of young families, and to celebrate the rivers which comprise our exquisite valley.

We also have strived to incorporate the entire valley and its divergent communities into the celebration. It is not a major fund-raiser. The stated desire of the early organizers was to keep the event small and community-centered.

Over the past six years, we have had great support of the residents, the Basalt business community, the town, most of the media in the valley and the musicians who love to play at River Days. All of those involved have only accolades for the event.

Both events take months to produce, skill in keeping the personalities balanced, finesse in the finances and fingers crossed that the weather is not too dramatic. These events are not designed to be the same.

Yes, the four main communities in this valley have different personalities. Along with our incredible surroundings, it is a reason we love living here.

As a close observer of all the communities and a believer that this valley must begin working together as a region to protect and enhance what we have, I found the brief column divisive and immature. To characterize an entire community by how many people dance at an event or venture out of their back yards to stand in front of a stage undermines all the above benefits I have described.

Additionally, I would question Allyn’s ability to count human beings. After checking with our production consultant, a Jazz Aspen professional, the attendance estimates were more than twice his. There was also a contradiction with his disappointment in the intimate nature of the River Days headliners and his disappointment in the impersonal nature of the Jazz Aspen events.

I know many journalists and I also know that sometimes meeting deadline can be challenging. In meeting that challenge one may forget how their words can shape the perception of an incident or event – especially if that is the only coverage your newspaper chooses to publish.

I realize that in a column you may speak your mind, but in a newspaper that is read by the valley and supported by the valley, you should have the responsibility to understand the valley.

Allyn, next year you are welcome to volunteer, protect the musical artists, roust the drunks, solicit sponsorships, clean up the trash, organize mud wrestling, or any other activity, for either fair. Please call us.

[Elizabeth Phillips is co-director of Basalt River Days and executive director of the Basalt Chamber of Commerce].


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